📚Mapping Emotions with Brown’s Atlas of the Heart

Brené Brown seems to be everywhere these days. She’s written five #1 New York Times bestsellers and appeared in her own Netflix special. She hosts two popular podcasts and has an 8-episode series in the works with HBO Max. Clearly, the Houston-based shame and vulnerability researcher has tapped into a public need to hear what she has to say. Her latest book is entitled Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience.

From the moment I picked it up, I noticed something different about this book. Set up like a hip and modern textbook, it does not appear like your typical nonfiction bestseller. The almost 8 ½” by 11” hardcover version has a relatively large font size, loads of colorful photographs, clever graphics and entire pages devoted to pullout quotes scattered throughout its pages.

As she explains in the introductory pages, Brown has striven to create a guide for navigating the range of human emotions. Why? As she says, if you can’t name it, how can you deal with it?

“I want this book to be an atlas for all of us, because I believe that with an adventurous heart and the right maps, we can travel anywhere and never fear losing ourselves. Even when we don’t know where we are.”

Brené Brown

The book is divided into 13 chapters that group 83 different emotions together by the situations that cause us to experience them. Each emotion listed in a chapter’s subtitle receives a thorough treatment, with situational examples, research findings and a definition.

For me, reading through this textbook-like list of emotions was utterly fascinating. I found myself naming emotions I’d had in situations and experiences in my own life in ways that I had never considered. In last week’s post about a classroom experience I’d had as a child, I now see I hadn’t given a proper name to the sinister and specific tactic the teacher was employing towards me until I recognized its description in Atlas. Mrs. P. was attempting to dehumanize me in the eye of my peers.

“Dehumanization continues to be one of the greatest threats to humanity. If we’re going to save ourselves and one another, we need to understand what it is and how it works.”

Brené Brown

In describing dehumanization, Brown shares that in human history’s most horrific chapters (think Nazism and slavery), language has often been used by people in power to dehumanize others to rationalize atrocities that otherwise conflict with their own core values. A clear understanding of dehumanization will help us resist it and stand up to it, as my classmate did when I was in the third grade.

“With awareness about how dehumanization works comes the responsibility to call out dangerous language when we recognize it.”

Brené Brown

The book is full of emotions I thought I knew, but learned more about, and several other interesting emotions I’d never heard of but could relate to, like Shoy and Freudenfreude. I am glad to have added the hard cover version of this Atlas to my bookshelves. I have the sense I’ll be referring back to it frequently.

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